Inside the Collection

Whispering in the basement- Mannequins in museums

Photograph of mannequins in a row
Mannequins waiting to be dressed for ‘The 80s are back’ exhibition.  Image Powerhouse Museum

This image above is from a series by Museum photographer, Geoff Friend capturing the secret world of mannequins. Sometimes when venturing into the basement or workshop areas, particularly late in the afternoon I feel I have interrupted murmurings between mannequins.

Perhaps critiquing the last show they were in or complaining as they are de-constructed yet again to be dressed, or spray painted a different colour (usually white or black) for a new display.

Photograph of mannequin feet
Freshly spray painted feet in the workshop,  Anni Turnbull, 2013.

As exhibitions are developed and constructed or dismantled, whole or parts of mannequins are often in the Museums workshop area or down in the basement object store. Sometimes you come across parts of bodies, freshly painted lying or hanging in rows, looking slightly disturbing like dismembered body parts (without the blood) from science fiction or horror films.

Photograph of mannequin parts
Parts of mannequins ready to be reassembled.  Anni Turnbull 2013

Most of the Museums mannequin collection is used to display costume in an exhibition.  Over eighty were used in the Back to the 80s exhibition. The mannequins are usually fibreglass, however wire mannequins have proved more adept in displaying costume that needs a suggestion of movement like the Cathy Freeman running suit in the Museum’s sport exhibition.

Photograph of Cathy Freeman's body suit
Cathy Freeman’s body suit on a wire mannequin in the Sport: more than heroes and legends. exhibition. Image Powerhouse Museum

We also have some grey mannequins on display in the Museum from it’s opening in 1988. The grey was to distinguish them from objects, the face and bodies were casts from Museum staff, the mannequins  remain in Loco No 1, and the in Kings Cinema behind the glass, as a ghostly audience

Photograph of Mannequins showing 1st class passengers in Loco No 1
Mannequins showing 1st class passengers in Loco No 1. Image Powerhouse Museum.

Some mannequins have become part of the collection, like this particularly buff specimen below. Chesty Bonds was made by the Bond’s Industry in 1950 to model the Bond t-shirts.

Photograph of manikin wearing 'Chesty Bond'
Mannequin torso, ‘Chesty Bond’, plastic / paint, Bonds Industries Limited, Sydney, Australia, c. 1950 A9600-1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

We also have acquired into the collection the fashion designer Jenny Kee Archive including five full size mannequins with the moulded facial features of Jenny Kee. They are made of fibreglass and painted flesh colour with red lips, orange eyeshadow, black eyeliner and short black hair. The mannequins wear flat black painted shoes that are moulded as part of the feet. They were used in the Strand arcade shop, Flamingo Park,in Sydney.1

Photograph of Jenny Kee mannequin
9/6/63 Mannequins (5), `Jenny Kee`, fiberglass/glass/metal, Australia, 1983-1993.Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The heads face in various directions and the arms are in various positions. They come in seven parts, torso, leg and groin, leg, arms and hands. Each mannequin comes with its own glass and metal stand.
Recently these model heads were used in a ‘how to tie a headscarf or hijab’ educational program linked to the Faith Fashion Fusion exhibition.

Photograph of mannequin heads
Heads used in the scarf tying workshops. Anni Turnbull 2013

Written by Anni Turnbull, curator, 2013

1/ Documentation for the Jenny Kee fashion collection written by Glynis Jones, fashion curator, 1999.

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